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Courthouse renovations expected to be done by January

September 14, 2007|By ERIN JULIUS

Renovations to the Washington County Courthouse that originally were expected to be finished by December 2005 should be done by January, said Gary Rohrer, Washington County's director of special projects.

The now 5-year-old project has been delayed by design changes to enhance safety, unexpected asbestos and more than 60 change orders. The courthouse renovations first were designed in 2002, and construction began in September 2004, according to county documents that Rohrer provided.

Contractors now are working on a ramp-type facility off the rear alley into the secure cell block in the courthouse annex basement, Rohrer said Friday. The access ramp is one of the "big-ticket items" that was added to the renovation project following a shooting at an Atlanta courthouse in 2005, Rohrer said.

The request for ramp access to the basement came from the Washington County Sheriff's Department and Washington County Circuit judges, he said.

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Contractors discovered encapsulated asbestos on the second floor in May 2006, Rohrer said. A portion of the second floor was shut down, and offices temporarily were moved to a different part of the building. The asbestos abatement "threw the whole schedule out of the window," Rohrer said.

Because the courthouse is an old building that wasn't built exactly as it was drawn, and the 1960s-era addition was loaded with asbestos, the contractor has received 67 change orders to date, Rohrer said.

The number of change orders isn't unusual with such a complicated project, he said.

Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies charged with maintaining security at the courthouse lost access to two holding cells when the renovations began.

With five Circuit judges hearing cases, the four cells in which defendants are held get a little crowded, Sgt. Paul Boyer said.

The renovations have caused minor inconveniences, but no security risks, said Maj. Mark Faith, the sheriff's department's judicial division commander.

Once the renovations are complete, those working in or visiting the courthouse will have a more secure environment in which to do business, Faith said.

The addition of a fifth Circuit judge in 2006 has worsened the problem by increasing the court's caseload, Faith said. The sheriff's department added two staff members to the judicial division earlier this year to help deal with a larger number of defendants, he said.

Under a second construction contract, a Sally Port will be built in the alley on the south side of the annex. Rohrer was unsure as to when the project would be completed. The alley no longer will be open to the public, and prisoners will be taken straight through the Sally Port into a secure holding area.

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